Successful electronic devices are “sticky,” meaning that you keep wanting to use them rather than doing or using something else. If the device is designed from the start with the right set of features, it will be both appealing and sticky to all of its potential buyers; otherwise, it might take a few iterations—and added features—to get to the point where people can’t live without it. A few examples of stickiness:
* iPods. Being able to play any piece of music from your collection, at any time, originally made iPods hugely sticky for audio fans. The additions of photos, podcasts, videos, and games have helped the iPod increase its portable entertainment value, and thus its stickiness. An iPod owner generally won’t turn to another portable device for audio or video on the road.
* Web-connected computers. Before the web took off, it was easy for everyone except for hard core fans to walk away from their personal computers and, say, go outside. Now kids, parents, and grandparents alike are computer users, and it’s hard to imagine a modern home without a computer connected to the Internet.
* Mobile phones. For people who love to communicate, mobile phones didn’t need anything more than decent reception and reasonable billing rates to become necessary, take-it-everywhere devices. The additions of text messaging, e-mail and web access have only made these phones stickier over time.
Any common threads above? Apple makes iPods, web-connected computers, and mobile phones—devices that are now widely regarded to be “musts” because of their features and interfaces. It also makes a little device called Apple TV, which very few people would claim to be “sticky.” As most people know, Apple TV connects to certain TVs and lets you enjoy your pre-existing music, videos, podcasts, and photos on a big screen. Recently, it’s also started to let you acquire additional content from the Internet—more music, videos, podcasts, and photos—but that’s pretty much all that it does.
Apple initially justified Apple TV’s existence by calling it a “DVD player for the 21st Century,” capable of playing mostly video content on TVs with better-than-DVD-quality display capabilities. However, it was obvious then, and more so now, that such a product was not going to match the gotta-have-it nature of Apple’s other key products: a DVD player, even a next-generation DVD player, is just not sticky. At a time when living room entertainment is increasingly multimedia, rather than limited to just playing back videos, there needs to be something to make you want to use Apple TV more often than you’d want to watch DVDs.
Past Backstage entries have made suggestions on how this might be accomplished. Nintendo’s Wii, for instance, has launched a global news reader, a weather forecast page, and a vote-against-the-world channel, all essentially widgets to keep you entertained and Wii-connected even when you’re not playing games. There’s also a web browser. And now Wii Fit, the exercise accessory and software package, which is about to sell its 2 millionth copy. Clearly, people enjoy interacting with their TVs, and the launch of Apple TV made plain that Apple wants to be involved with that—somehow.
Apple has been exploring potential expansion options for Apple TV since before the device was even announced. Back in August 2006, it filed for a patent that suggested people might be able to use widgets to do video chats with the Apple TV, and perhaps access web pages, or interact with DVDs—each most likely requiring additional hardware not included with the current device. Another patent suggested that Apple has envisioned the device extending into DVR functionality. Unfortunately, the only expansion it has actually received—apart from a new menuing system—is the ability to stream and download photos, video, and audio from the Internet via Flickr, .Mac, YouTube, and the iTunes Store.
No one seemed to remember its birthday in late March, but Apple TV’s now a year old. What do you think Apple should add to the device in order to make sure that there’s something worth celebrating next year? Does it need something as simple as composite video ports, or more complex features, like DVR, disc, or widget functionality? We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments box below.